The Purposefulness of Being Mindful
Being Mindful is paying attention “on purpose”. In other words, mindfulness involves an intentional conscious direction of your awareness. Sometimes I talk about “mindfulness” and “awareness” as if they were the same thing, but that’s not exactly true. You may be aware of being angry, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean you were being mindful of your anger. To be mindful you need to be purposefully aware of yourself, not just vaguely or habitually aware. For example, awareness that you are driving your car is not the same as driving mindfully.
Let’s take this example of driving and let’s look at it a little closer. If you are purposefully aware of driving, you are consciously prepared and watchful in order to pilot the car successfully, you are aware of the process of driving. You’re intentionally watching the road and anticipating the necessary responses. You may sometimes notice your mind wandering, and when it does you purposefully bring your attention back to the task.
When we’re driving unmindfully we may be vaguely aware of what we’re doing, but we’re probably thinking about other things at the same time, and we may also be listening to the radio or talking. So only a small part of our awareness is focused on driving, and we may be only loosely aware of the road and even less aware of our thoughts, physical sensations and feelings.
Because we’re only vaguely aware of our thoughts they wander freely. There’s only sporadic attempt to bring out attention back to our driving and therefore little purposefulness. This intention is a very important part of mindfulness. The intention to focus on your moment to moment experience, whether it be on your breath or a particular physical sensation or feeling, or something as habitual as driving, means that you are actively being mindful.